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There’s a new category for African musicians at the Grammys. Here’s what you need to know about the nominees

For the first time, African music will have its own category at the Grammys. The Recording Academy will showcase three new categories for this year’s awards, including “Best African Music Performance” — featuring some of Afrobeats’ global superstars.

“By introducing these three new categories, we are able to acknowledge and appreciate a broader array of artists,” said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., in a press release last year to announce the categories, which also include Best Pop Dance Recording and Best Alternative Jazz Album. “We are excited to honor and celebrate the creators and recordings in these categories, while also exposing a wider range of music to fans worldwide.”

The addition of the Best African Music Performance category follows a meteoric rise in the global popularity of Afrobeats. On Spotify alone, Afrobeats streams have grown over 550% since 2017, according to the streaming platform, making it one of the “fastest growing genres.”

Ahead of the 2024 Grammy Awards on February 4 in Los Angeles, here’s what to know about the five Best African Music Performance nominees poised to make history.

Ayra Starr

Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe, known as Ayra Starr, is nominated for her hit “Rush,” on her debut studio album “19 & Dangerous.” The song charted globally, went viral with a dance challenge on TikTok, was listed on former US President Barack Obama’s annual playlist for 2022, and currently has over 300 million streams on Spotify and almost 300 million views on YouTube. Signed to Mavin Records, the 21-year-old Afropop singer has collaborated with Kelly Rowland, Stormzy and fellow Nigerian stars Tiwa Savage and Wizkid.

Asake & Olamide

These two Nigerian powerhouses each scored their first nomination for their hit song “Amapiano.” Asake, whose real name is Ahmed Ololade, had the highest-charting Nigerian debut album in history on the Billboard charts in 2022, with his album “Mr. Money with the Vibe.” The Grammy-nominated track is the third single off his second album, “Work of Art,” and celebrates Amapiano — another African music genre that has gained worldwide popularity and acclaim . The 29-year-old is signed to YBNL records, which is owned by Olamide. In a 2021 interview with CNN, Olamide described his label-owning mindset as one of necessity: “There were no doors opening up,” he said, “so, I had to set up my own building and my own door.”

Tyla

Tyla performs during a New Year's Eve event in Times Square, New York City, on December 31, 2023. - John Lamparski/AFP via Getty Images
Tyla performs during a New Year's Eve event in Times Square, New York City, on December 31, 2023. - John Lamparski/AFP via Getty Images

South African Tyla, 21, is nominated for her massive hit “Water,” which spawned a viral dance movement after its release in 2023. The singer released her first single “Getting Late” in 2019 and has been on an upward trajectory since. She has described her sound as “Popiano” — a fusion of South Africa’s Amapiano genre and pop music. “Water” is the first single from her debut studio album “Tyla” and is the highest charting song by a South African solo artist on the Billboard Hot 100, debuting at No. 67 and rising all the way to No. 10.

Davido, featuring Musa Keys

Afrobeats superstar David Adeleke’s song “Unavailable” is one of his three nominations at this year’s Grammys. The Nigerian singer best known as Davido is also nominated for Best Global Album and Best Global Music Performance. The song is from his fourth studio album, “Timeless,” which hit No. 2 on Billboard’s World Album chart. Davido was also one of the most streamed artists on Spotify in Africa in 2023. Of the album, Davido told CNN during an interview in 2023 that he felt it would stand the test of time: “I know in years to come … we’re going to be talking about this album … it just put me in another dimension with making music.” But the singer made headlines of a different sort in the weeks leading up to the Grammys, when fellow Nigerian star Tiwa Savage filed a police complaint against him over alleged threats.

Burna Boy

Burna Boy, whose real name is Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, is up for a total of four Grammys this year for Best Global Music Album, Best Melodic Rap performance, Best Global Music Performance and Best African Music Performance — and will perform at the awards. No stranger to the awards circuit, he won the Best Global Music Album Grammy in 2021 for his album “Twice as Tall.” Burna Boy ended a historic 2023 at No. 1 on the Billboard Year-End US Afrobeats Artists Chart, as well as one of the 10 most streamed male African artists on Spotify. Back in 2021 he told CNN how much the music he makes means to him. “I’m not a musician who is just giving you vibes or giving you nice beats and talking whatever, just so you can dance,” he said. “Every one of my songs is basically part of my soul.”

‘A long time coming’

CNN spoke to Rico Love, a singer-songwriter and chairman of the Recording Academy’s Black Music Collective, and Sheila Okonji-Ashinze, host of the US-syndicated show “Afrozons with Sheila O,” who campaigned for the new category. The pair visited Lagos, Nigeria, to host a pre-Grammys party and to honor music legend King Sunny Adé.

They believe the introduction of a Grammy category for African music is a significant step toward recognizing and celebrating the diversity and influence of African artists worldwide.

“It’s incredible because it’s a long time coming,” said Love. “The fact that African music around the world is spreading and growing, not just in the diaspora. African artists now get the opportunity to be seen, heard and recognized by the Recording Academy, something we’re very passionate about.

“African music has become so large that including it in the World Music category would be a disservice to its diverse genres. Afrobeats, in particular, has eclipsed many genres globally. This new category provides an opportunity for all African music to be recognized as a solitary entity.”

Sheila Okonji-Ashinze said that when she moved to the US in 2017, she created the first-ever nationally syndicated Afrobeats show. “Coming from England, where Afrobeats was massive, I wanted to introduce it to the US. The show gained recognition from different record labels, helping us pave the way for this Grammy category.”

Love encouraged artists from the continent to become voting members of the Grammys.

“Visit grammy.com … to check eligibility and apply for membership,” he said. “Artists, entrepreneurs, and everyone in the community must register as voting members. Having a category is not enough; active participation ensures the category thrives. We need people who look like us to be voting.”

CNN’s Stephanie Busari contributed to this report.

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